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English Church Architecture -

Rotherham (U. A.).


WENTWORTH, Holy Trinity (SK 384 982)     (May 2013)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Westphalian Series, Middle Coal Measures)

This very attractive little village in its rural setting comes as a surprise less than five miles from the centre of Rotherham, and its exceptional parish church (seen above from the southeast) is another – the work of John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), erected in 1873-7 at the expense of the sixth Earl Fitzwilliam of neighbouring Wentworth Woodhouse.  It stands on the edge of the park, set back from the village down a long tree-lined drive.


Of relatively simple plan and design, the church is highly impressive in its size and nobility of conception.  Composed of a chancel with a N. vestry, a crossing tower with adjoining transepts, and an aisled nave with a N. porch, it is the height of the church that first commands attention, apparent not only in the tower and surmounting broach spire, soaring almost 200’ (61 m.) into the sky, but in its tall walls on every side, made manifest by the height of the window sills, which exceeds 12’ (3.7 m.) even in the aisles of lean-to construction.  There is also an exceptionally tall, circular stair turret in Scottish baronial style in the re-entrant between the chancel and S. transept (illustrated left), attached to the southeast angle of the tower, with a blank lower stage reaching higher than the ridgeline of the transept roof, followed by a much shorter blank stage, another short stage pierced by narrow rectangular openings set in blank lancets, and finally, a conical roof.  The crossing tower rises in three stages to battlements above the nave, chancel and transept roofs, its lower stage lit by small Y-traceried windows on either side of the roof gables below, the second stage, blank, and the third, pierced by two, two-light bell-openings in each wall, with shafts between and at the sides.  The spire is ribbed and lit by a single tier of gabled lucarnes in the cardinal directions. 


Window tracery in all parts of the church is predictably geometric, although the precise forms vary continually:  the most elaborate windows, inevitably, are reserved for the principal fronts and are six-light in the W. wall of the nave and N. & S. walls of the transepts, but, surprisingly, only five-light in the E. wall of the chancel, with quatrefoils, cinquefoils, a sexfoil and an octfoil in circles above.  (The photograph, right, shows the S. window to the S. transept.)  There are also windows in the gables above.  The nave aisle windows are two-light with uncusped lancet lights and trefoils in circles in the heads, while the clerestory windows above and behind, are three-light and larger, with intersecting tracery and quatrefoils in circles above.  The two-storeyed porch is lit by side windows consisting only of quatrefoils in circles, but its status is upheld in being approached up a short flight of steps and by the quadripartite vault within, formed of two shallow bays with nailhead decoration on the ribs.  The re-entrant between the porch and the nave to the west enfolds another circular turret, being essentially a shorter version of the tower stair turret to the southeast.


In fact, it is the thoroughgoing provision of vaults that is the church’s outstanding internal feature, with its nave, aisles, transepts, tower and sanctuary all covered with separate stone roofs.  The nave vault (viewed, left, from the west) is formed of four tall quadripartite bays separated by wider transverse ribs bearing dog-tooth between rolls, but the aisle vaults are five bays in length due to the addition of extra, short bays to the west.  The full-length bays have additional (fifth) ribs crossing from the apices to the side wall, to separate the two, two-light windows that light each in turn.  The nave arcades are four bays long, composed of arches of complex profile supported on piers consisting of eight unequal shafts separated by deep hollows, with capitals running all the way round. A decorative frieze of blank geometrical shapes (mainly trefoils) runs between the arcades and the clerestory, recessed in the stone. 


The space beneath the crossing serves as the western half of the chancel while the sanctuary to the east is approached up three steps.   The mouldings around the crossing arches are cunningly contrived (see the photograph, right, looking towards the east): the second and fourth orders (counting from the inside), carry bands of dog-tooth, but the number and succession of the mouldings is not immediately evident as the roll on the third order continues around the tower angles to bisect the rolls around the neighbouring arches at right angles to itself.  A band of pierced quatrefoils passes above the crossing arches, and immediately above again, a gallery passage runs between the Y-traceried tower windows seen externally, and an inner wall pierced by lancets springing from narrow columns.  The bell-stage is supported on an octopartite vault with dog-tooth decorating the ribs, and with the usual central circular hole to allow for passage of the bell-ropes.  The N. & S. transepts are each vaulted in two bays, with vaults springing from groups of three shafts at the angles and double shafts rising from corbels between the bays. The sanctuary is also vaulted in two bays and features another gallery passage, at the level of the window sills, some 15’ (4.6 m.) from the ground. 


All these ingenious and magnificent features merit careful examination but it is also worth taking note of some things that are absent from this  building, constructed at the very end of High Victorian times, for first and foremost, there is no constructional colour.  Perhaps Pearson was never especially committed to this, yet some of his early churches - for example, Christ Church, Appleton-le-Moors (North Yorkshire) - display quite a lot.   Here, there is none whatever:  the exterior is all millstone grit, entirely unbanded (cf., for example, Butterfield’s grit-stone church at Baldersby St. James, N. Yorkshire), with no tumbling in of contrasting stones around the window heads, nor any attempt to highlight random pieces of masonry (again, as Butterfield was apt to do, contrary to Ruskin’s precepts), while inside, everything is a cool, cream limestone – probably magnesian limestone from the line of outcrop to the east.  (The photograph, left, shows the N. porch from the north.)


Neither, with the exception of the reredos (right), has Pearson spent his patron’s money on elaborate furnishings or carved ornament.  The reredos, admittedly, features a nicely designed tableau of The Last Supper beneath crocketed arches and between more on either side, but the pulpit is simple and of wood and the font adopts an equally basic form in stone.  Pearson was evidently very single-minded here about how he was going to spend his patron’s money and every available penny has been made to contribute to the grandeur of the principal structure - a line of approach that has paid handsome dividends.  Pearson's carved ornament could be cold and mechanical, whereas, in contrast, in the combination of masses and the handling of vaults he was utterly without peer.  Earl Fitzwilliam paid £25,000 for this masterwork and one hopes he appreciated what good value he received.